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Hamburg’s Historical Society enters new era, 1954- 2013

Shown here is a sketch provided by Young and Wright Architects of how the addition to the Hamburg Historical Society’s Museum will look when completed (hopefully by the start of summer) as well as a photograph of the work in progress taken this spring. Located at 5859 South Park Ave. on the Society Campus, the building is directly across the street from the Erie County Fairgrounds and to the left of the Boies Lord House.

When completed, a large hall at the front of the building will be used for exhibits and for various society events, and an adjoining library for the cataloguing and preparing of historic artifacts can be accessed for both exhibitions and research purposes. The town historian’s office will also be relocated here.

The original steel building at the rear of the new structure will still be utilized for storage and to house a kitchen to serve society banquets and community events held in the new museum. The new building is the long-time dream of many volunteers who have worked so very hard to preserve the area’s history for the benefit of all the residents of the town.

With all this in mind, I realized that after 19 years of writing this column and as town historian and one of the society volunteer, I had never written a column about the history of the society. And it seemed to me that as the new building begins to near completion, it may bring about some interest in the historical society and indeed some residents may be moved to become a much needed volunteer. I can assure you, new members are welcomed.

The Hamburg Historical Society had its origins in 1954, when a group of community minded citizens, concerned with preserving the heritage of the town, gathered together to organize in the library of the old Hamburg High School on Pleasant Avenue. From existing records, it is known that the meeting minutes of the group were kept from that year, and also that in 1962 the society did conduct the successful town-wide sesquicentennial celebration. However, it wasn’t until May 3, 1966, that the organization was formalized an by-laws were approved. George Sipprell was the first president.

In an effort to preserve the assets gained from the sesquicentennial and to perpetuate the society, the group applied and received a provisional charter from the University of the State of New York’s Educational Department. The permanent charter was granted on Sept. 25, 1970. During its early years, the society would acquire the present 7.5 acre parcel of land on South Park Avenue from the Flenniken Estate, that would later become its home.

It was then in 1974 that they entered into an agreement with the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society to share in the erecting of a steel building on that site. It was agreed the Buffalo & Erie County Society would utilize the rear of the building for its carriage collection and the Hamburg Society would develop the front portion and the remainder of the land. The land was then cleared and after dedication ceremonies, the building was erected.

In an effort to use the front of the building for more than just storage, the Hamburg group entered into an agreement under the CETA Grant Program to complete the interior of its part of the structure, as well as the parking and driveway areas, and also to assist in the preparing of artifacts and library materials for exhibition and research.

The years that followed would be exciting and eventful times as the campus on South Park Avenue would be completed with the addition of several historical buildings. In 1979, the society would help oversee the moving of the Boies Lord house from Main and Center streets in the village to its present location on South Park Avenue. Today, under a long-time lease with the Historical Society, the Antiques Study Group maintains and operates the house as a classic example of a Hamburg village home and the life of the people who lived there in the mid-19th century.

This would be followed by the addition of the carriage house, the jail, a hay barn, a “Yankee Barn” and the Spittler Barn.

The Yankee Barb was moved board by board from the site of the Hamburg Town Golf Course and then reassembled at the South Park Campus. The structure was built in 1810 by Ezelia Smith and David Eddy and donated to the society in 1979 by the estate of Henry Gueting. It’s called a Yankee Barn because it is named for the pioneers from New England who created that unique architectural style and carried it with them as they moved westward across the country.

In 1996, James and Myra Dunn donated their home at 6902 Gowanda State Road to the society. Under the terms of the agreement brokered by Society President Joe Streamer, the society was required to hold the property for five years and operate it as a historical museum.

Actually, it was held until 2011, when the financial burden of operating two sites simply became too much for the all-volunteer group. As a result, the property was sold. (In appreciation for their contribution, the library in the new building will be named for the Dunns.) The proceeds of the sale were then used to help construct the new building at the South Park Avenue site. The location of the building on its original property will now allow the society to consolidate all historical facilities in one place, and more importantly, be more economical.

It certainly will save money, but the society, like all other volunteer not-for-profit organizations, will continue to face financial challenges as it moves forward. The cost of furnishing the building and its upkeep will remain major issues. However, under the leadership of President Julie Howes, they remain hopeful that the community will support their major fundraisers that are planned for this summer. The new structure is a major asset for the community. It deserved your support.

It’s been almost 60 years since George Sipprell called that first meeting to order at the old Hamburg High School. For the most part, those years have been marked by a steady progress that has led to the construction of this new beautiful structure on South Park Avenue. It’s a building that will allow a new generation of town residents to research their heritage in comfort and convenience.

A debt of gratitude is owed to all those society volunteers who have stayed the course and kept the faith, resulting in the erection of this new facility. Hopefully, it will last for generations to come and remain a monument to their commitment.

Photo– Hamburg resident Daniel Meyer and the sketch is from the historians files.

This column is written each week by Hamburg Town Historian Jim Baker.

Anyone wanting to submit photographs and/or materials can call the Town Historian Jim Baker at the Hamburg Town Hall on either Wednesday or Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at 649-6111 ext. 2400.

Readers can also provide feedback by writing to The Sun and mailing it to The Sun, 141 Buffalo St., Hamburg, NY 14075.


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